Howard Chaykin Speaks

Howard Chaykin Speaks

Changing The Rules Of The Game

♦ Howard Chaykin is a creator, a writer and an artist with a career that spans over five decades. His CV has included everything from Blackhawk, Hawkgirl and The Shadow to his own acclaimed creations American Flagg! and Time². Tripwire gave its contributing writer Peter Mann the task of asking him about his impressive body of work, going back to the beginning.

TRIPWIRE: You had a sort of apprenticeship with two of the true greats in comics, Gil Kane and Wally Wood. What did you learn from them, and how did it shape your early work? 

HOWARD CHAYKIN: Gil Kane was my first serious art crush. I loved his work from the moment I became aware of it, back in 1960, on the Silver Age revival of Green Lantern. I never did any actual hands-on work for Gil –trust me when I say it–to call my work inept is to credit it with far more value than it merited. I ran errands for Gil, and listened to and absorbed the monologue that ran from the beginning to the end of a work day. Gil was a deeply opinionated man, but unlike opinionated people these days, he was also profoundly well informed. The year I spent working for him so utterly informs my way of thinking – about the creative process of comics, as well as just about everything else in my life and experience. The only way I can imagine repaying this debt is to pass it on to others in kind.

Gil was a difficult man, with complex, not to mention slippery ethics, but I loved him dearly, warts and all, and miss him an awful lot.

On a professional level, Gil, who never felt he transcended his influences, maintained a tradition of balletic movement in space pioneered by Lou Fine and Mac Raboy. Without Gil carrying this forward, the depiction of action in superhero comics would be nothing but Kirby-based impact, as opposed to the figure in choreographed motion for which Gil is deservedly admired. Suffice to say, 90% of contemporary talent wouldn’t have a basis for their work, despite the fact that most of them have no clue of whom they are indebted to.

As for Woody, this was more a cautionary tale. I worked for him for a bit less than a year, and although the above-mentioned skill sets were hardly any more evolved, he hired me to pencil a western strip for the Overseas Weekly which he would then ink, transforming my crude shit into Wallace Wood, through that overpowering, distinctive and universally recognized brush line and all of its attendant effects.

Whereas Gil demonstrated, albeit with a skepticism borne out of having spent his entire adult life in the field, that a career in comics could be at least somewhat rewarding, Woody was so profoundly self loathing and self destructive that by the time I met him he was a ghost, a feeble echo of the towering talent he’d been throughout the fifties and early sixties. He was still breathtakingly proficient with a brush, however – able to transform my barely creditable effort, not to mention the work of at least one non-artist who simply traced stuff, into his own recognizable style.

So I wanted to be Gil Kane when I grew up, but I lived in terror of ending up like Wallace Wood.

TW: (Assuming it did) Do you still see elements from them in your work? (What are they? Can you give examples we can illustrate?)

HC: As I’ve said here and elsewhere, Gil was my favourite artist when I was a kid. However, I feel as if I’ve wandered away from his influence.   Woody, on the other hand, is another story. Gil once said, in an introduction to a chap book of Alex Toth’s work, (and I’m paraphrasing here), that Alex and Woody were the two most important artists to emerge from that first generation.

In that regard, as I’ve gotten older, and my tastes have grown both more graphic, and oddly, perhaps conversely, more baroque, I feel that my work has been at first an unconscious, then quite scrupulous, attempt to mesh both Alex Toth and Wallace Wood’s styles into something else entirely.

All this notwithstanding, many years ago, I ghosted a month of Gil and Ron Goulart’s Sky Hawks newspaper strip, and the greatest compliment I could have received was the assumption, made by many, that I’d inked Gil’s pencils – which told me unequivocally that I’d managed to get to the core of his design system and narrative approach, not merely imitate the surface elements of his style.

And when you get past the artwork, Gil is the single most important male influence in my life. A day doesn’t go by without my hearing his voice in everything I undertake.

TW: You did work for Gray Morrow (uncredited – you pencilled the Man-Thing story in Fear 10) then moved to Neal Adams’s studio, which I think led directly to your tenure at DC Comics, where you did work for various editors (Schwartz, Boltinoff, Woolfolk). Then there was your first long-form collaboration with Denny O’Neil on the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser story “The Price of Pain Ease”. What was it like being at DC in those days?

HC: I’m not sure of your timeline in regard to Gray and Neal. I was banging around with guys my age back then, trying to hustle up work, despite my ineptitude. I think it was through Woody that I met Gray Morrow, and did a bunch of ghost pencilling for him – a relationship that lasted for a few years, well into my early career, by the way, and continued far beyond the Man-Thing story.

It was Neal who bullied Murray Boltinoff into giving me a job, a one-page filler – which led to a pencilling job for the beloved Joe Orlando, who hired Tony DeZuniga to save my pathetic ass.

Dottie Woolfolk was a real doll, who also gave me a few jobs, again despite my inability.

I got the Fafhrd & Grey Mouser stuff through demonstrating, maybe for the first time, my capacity to be a grind. Another artist had been assigned to the job, but O’Neill had his doubts about this guy’s ability to deliver on time. He sent us both home on a Friday, with a charge to come in with character designs. I busted my ass, he phoned it in, and I got the gig.

DC was the world to us. Stan Lee, on the other hand, had no interest in working with anyone who wasn’t a contemporary of his. For all of his pandering to the college crowd, he had no idea about how to connect with us – until he hired Roy Thomas, of course.

We all hung around the coffee room – in order to be available for work if it came in, and of course to endlessly bullshit – and to flirt with the girls who worked at Independent News, which shared the floor with DC.

TW: You then moved to Marvel (as a co-artist with Neal Adams on the first Killraven story). Around this point you developed The Scorpion at Atlas – this was the first of your swashbuckler characters (all of them really….). You’ve said that you don’t like superhero or horror comics much. Was the possibility of drawing a swashbuckler what drew you to Atlas?

HC: Co-artist doesn’t quite cover it. And just as I learned a lesson about being a grind on the SOS assignment, the takeaway from this is that no good deed goes unpunished. Neal took eight months to do the first lot of pages, while I delivered the rest over the weekend. And I was never forgiven for not doing work as good as Neal’s – as if I could under any circumstances.

As for The Scorpion, the editors at Atlas wanted to do a Shadow knockoff, and I came back with my version, and it flew. I was fired after the second issue, and they brought Alex Toth in, giving him carte blanche to do what he liked with the book, which never saw print as the Scorpion, as I recollect, but under a different title…

TW: After the demise of Atlas, The Scorpion morphed into Dominic Fortune at Marvel and I think led to Cody Starbuck at Star Reach, which was the first time you were able to be more “adult” in your work. What did having that freedom for the first time feel like?  

HC: What Atlas accomplished was the raising of rates across the board at DC and Marvel. They were located around the corner from Marvel, and after getting my walking papers, I walked across the street and started doing Dominic Fortune there. Cody Starbuck was my transparent attempt to do Conan in space. I loved doing it, despite the fact that Friedrich never listened when I told him my remit was to read Howard, not Howie.   I hate nicknames, and always have.   I was, of course, Happy Howie at Marvel –although I strongly lobbied for Hophead, to no avail. I never felt particularly bothered by the various constraints placed on us as artists at any company at which I worked, so the freedom of which you speak wasn’t really an issue.

TW: So, 1976, back at Marvel you land the plum job of drawing the Star Wars adaptation and then the ongoing comic. You left after 10 issues, so I guess that wasn’t a dream job? 

HC: I’m on record everywhere regarding this – I’d like to think that had I known it was going to be that big a deal, I would have done a better job.   That work will haunt me to my grave, diminishing the value of the actually good and true work I’ve produced in the past forty odd years. I figure my NYT obit will read HOWARD CHAYKIN DIES; FUCKED UP STAR WARS COMICS – AND REALLY NOW, WHO GIVES A SHIT ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE HE DID, RIGHT?

TW: Upstart Associates with Simonson, Starlin and Mayerick. We often hear a lot about The Studio, but less about Upstart. What’s up with that? Four of the most talented people in the industry (Mayerik was the Graham Ingels of the group).

HC: Wow – I wonder how Mayerik himself feels about that? Does that make me Jack Kamen? Upstart was a place to work and socialize, without the overweening self-esteem promulgated by the fab foursome of The Studio.

It was mostly me and Walter, with Starlin showing up now and then. Mayerik decided to leave, and didn’t bother to tell any of us, or to let us know that he’d simply offered his workspace to Jim Sherman without seeing if this was good with me, or the others.   To this day I’ll never quite understand that kind of presumptuous entitlement.

When Starlin left, he brought in Frank Miller, who did Ronin there while Walter produced his Thor run, and I did Flagg! Dean Haspiel and Larry O’Neil, Denny’s son, were our assistants. We had terrific parties – the atmosphere around the workplace was always good.

One of the highlights was working late on Flagg! one night, and overhearing a conversation between Sherman and Alan Weiss, discussing future projects, leaving the rest of the business to check chasing hacks. Still waiting to see how that worked out. For the record, I gather Sherman lives in that space now. Go figure.

TW: Through the late 70s and early 80s you worked in paperback cover illustration – was that enjoyable  – or at least lucrative?

HC: I was forced out of comics by a screaming confrontation with Jim Shooter, Marvel’s then EIC on Good Friday of either ’79 or ’80. It was over a correction made on a cover painting I’d done. He’d asked his art director to make the change directly on the painting, rather than on acetate as was the normal practice. I went to work as a paperback man and had a terrific time–but I never was and never will be a painter of any real consequence – and due to a trifecta of Reagan’s policies affecting a lowering of rates in publishing, the failure of any graphic style on the racks, and an inability on my part to do likenesses or food ­– no joke – meant I was forced to make my way back to comics.

TW: Your work for Heavy Metal got you work on the Movie version – is this where your Hollywood connection began?

HC: I was hired by the late Michael Gross to work on the Heavy Metal movie mostly because of the unprofessionalism of what talent there was on the West Coast, who seemed to be incapable of delivering anything serviceable, let alone on time, on the Taarna sequence. They’d thrown away nearly six weeks of production time trying to get anything like what they wanted – specifically, a Giraud/Moebius look to the characters.   I spent what I recall was a week, maybe ten days, on the project at the Universal Hotel whatever, and was able to produce what they expected of a day’s work by noon, giving me time to do a few freelance assignments for A&M records, then art directed by my much missed friend Ed Herch.

It was my first opportunity to confirm the basic common truth in the telegram Herman Mankiewicz is said to have sent to Ben Hecht after the former had made his way to Hollywood in 1927 – “There’s a fortune to be made out here and the competition are idiots. Don’t let this get around.”

But no, back then, I couldn’t visualize translating my skill sets into a Hollywood career. It was Flagg!! that got me an agent, and started me off in that business, some five years later when I relocated to Los Angeles for what I assumed would be a year or two, maybe five.

Thirty years later, I’m typing this in my house near the beach, an hour north of Los Angeles, collecting a WGA pension and doing comics.   It really is a wonderful life, as Robert Riskin said.

TW: You worked with two of the greatest SF writers of all time (Michael Moorcock – Swords of Heaven, Flowers of Hell, and Samuel Delaney – Empire) on original graphic novels. How did the collaborations work? What were they like to work with?

HC: I’m fond of both men, although I seemed to have gotten onto Michael’s shit list. In Chip’s case, we met when he was making an experimental film which featured a number of my contemporaries – but it was Byron Preiss who put us together for Empire. This was a terrific experience, despite the fact that it put me in a financial hole from which it would take eight years to get out of.

As for The Swords Of Heaven, Flowers Of Hell, Michael and I met in the mid seventies and hit it off. I was a huge fan of all his work, and it was a thrill to do an Eternal Champion story. In both cases, I was able to learn an awful lot about how to actually produce creditable work – something that had functionally eluded me up until then.

TW: This was very early for graphic novels. Do you feel you got the credit you deserved? I hear that you didn’t make much money from the work you did for Byron Preiss.

HC: Graphic novels. The phrase brings to mind the sort of people who use the words cinema or films when they really mean movies.   “Comics” works fine for me. I’ll leave the graphic novels to the self-justifying, pretentious navel gazers who need to separate themselves from the medium itself.

I guess we have Spiegelman and Pekar to thank for the slew of people who think their lives are worthy of transcription into comics. So, credit? Corben did it before me, and did it visually brilliantly, albeit in the service of narrative material that didn’t interest me in the least. And yes, nobody made money working for Byron Preiss except Byron Preiss.

TW: You developed your painted style through the paperback work, graphic novels and Cody Starbuck for HM – it’s a distinct approach to painting. What did you use at this time? 

HC: You say distinct – I say desperate. It should be noted that I was diagnosed as red/green colourblind in 1962 – so I assumed for many years that colour work was never going to be part of my repertoire. However, when I learned about Howard Pyle teaching his students at Brandywine to first paint in black and white, to learn tonal value, I dived into this idea with gusto, and ultimately learned how to use colour.

As for media, I mixed it. Marker, coloured inks, acrylic paints, coloured pencils – anything to make an effect. One of my favorite artists for much of my life is Robert Fawcett – and it’s clear, if you follow the development of his career from start to finish, that he was inventing an approach to technique that would use his flaws as well as his assets in the service of painting. This became my goal in all my colour work.

TW: You also illustrated work by Roger Zelazny, and adapted The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester. I assume you enjoy Science Fiction? Did this focus your attention on what would become American Flagg?

HC: I seem to recall that I did paperback covers for Zelazny – Gray Morrow did the comics adaptation.   I have to say that Byron, in his “adaptation” of Bester’s brilliant novel, missed so much of what Alfred was doing lyrically and metaphorically, seeing everything in very literal terms.

And as for science fiction; I loved it, almost as uncritically as I adored comics – until I began to lose my taste for it in the mid-seventies, thanks in part to Archie Goodwin, who weaned me away from SF and fantasy to take a stronger look at crime fiction.

Every so often, these days, I’ll dip my toe into the genre, and always come away with the nagging feeling that I’ve lost one of those cherished elements of childhood – sort of the same thing as being unable to really take pleasure in devouring a Twinkie.

And in that regard, American Flagg! and Time Squared to me at least, seem to be hybrids –Flagg! is dystopia as burlesque comedy, influenced by Maverick, Gunsmoke and Terry & The Pirates as much as it is by other dystopic fictions; and Time(Squared) is deeply inspired by my love of Bebop Jazz, tabloid journalism of the 1950s, and the future as visualized by the 1939/1940 World’s Fair – the underworld of which is the milieu of this, my personal favorite of all my stuff.

TW: In my opinion, American Flagg! was the most remarkable comic since Harvey Kurtzman and Bernie Krigstein’s work at EC comics. The amount of graphic innovation is stunning, as is the story. The first 12 issues form one of the most influential pieces work I can think of. Again, I don’t feel that they get the credit they deserve, possibly because First were an independent publisher, and some of the work was out of print for many years.

HC: This is very kind, and in that regard, generates a wave of bitter resentment that can only be choked off by acceptance of life on life’s terms.

As noted above, most of the audience of comic readers and enthusiasts only know my work on Star Wars.

For fuck’s sake.

In the first place, while I believed otherwise at the time, Flagg! is not a mainstream comic book. Rather, it was my first serious attempt to synergize graphic ideas, narrative themes and visual syntax into a cohesive whole.

Even if it had reached the mass market, I don’t believe it would have met with any great or profound love, simply because it pissed all over many of the very tropes that comic fans hold dear.   The book featured an untrustworthy, vaguely dishonest sidewinder of a hero – a liberal mugged by reality, in Ed Koch’s famous phrase.

Flagg! is packed with a slew of unlikeable supporting characters operating in a vulgar and unsettling place, with an equally difficult world view. Skeptical rather than cynical, the book is easy to read as nihilistic, when in fact it’s mostly a screed about the Reagan administration.

And that’s only the content. Visually, graphically, textually, narratively, the book isn’t easy to read – and doesn’t congratulate its reader for being there, the way ‘the hero with a wound’ traditional comic book formula does so well.

On the other hand, an entire generation of artists and writers grew up on it. And despite the current trend of nice driving out the good, in which talent has to apologize and pander to an audience that operates under the mistaken impression that it has the right not to have its feelings hurt, Flagg! opened the door to an entirely new vocabulary for telling stories in comics.

As I’ve said here and in previous interviews, I grow weary of ignorant enthusiasts who are utterly unaware of how many tropes, techniques and graphic ideas I and Ken Bruzenak pioneered in Flagg! that have been adapted by artists smart enough to steal from us – but frequently not clever enough to create something coherent out of those ideas.

And I’m not talking about overt sexuality, or lingerie, or any of that obvious stuff. I’m talking about irony, comedy and tragedy with consequences, and a strongly articulated point of view – in what I know is a genre product.

Mark Chiarello has described me as one of the architects of the modern comic book, by which I assume he’s basically referring to the two dozen issues of American Flagg! that I both wrote and drew.

I humbly accept that with good grace.

TW: American Flagg! seemed to peter out rather than end, and the artists on the issues you wrote didn’t have the same feel for the character  as you did. I know the workload must have been immense – was it that, or boredom… why did it finish?

HC: I had always regarded myself as a journeyman talent – a man among men, and a worker among workers – until I saw what First replaced me with on Flagg! My apologies to the people involved, but really…

Bear in mind I didn’t write the book for another artist to draw until the very end, when I collaborated with a number of talents to create the final year. In retrospect, this was a mistake in judgment on my part – and one I deeply regret.

TW: You used the Flagg! Special one-shot to introduce Time²: The Epiphany – the first in a series of one-off graphic novels which continued with Time²: The Satisfaction of Black Mariah. There was a third book talked about which didn’t materialize. Why?

HC: Time Squared (I can’t get that little 2 up there…), as noted above, is my favourite work –and a commercial disaster from word one. Everybody – and by everybody, I mean the very few people who actually bought the book – hated it. Years later, critical opinion did a complete 180, but by then, the world had moved on.

Again, Time(squared) was a profoundly influential book on the creative pool. Go figure.

TW: Around the same time, you created an influential and much-praised revisionist version of the Shadow that brought the character into modern times. Do you find much sympathy for the pulp heroes? 

HC: All The Shadow traditionalists out there hated the book. My contention, despite the fact that I love doing historical material, has always been that the reason The Shadow is a period feature is that was cancelled in 1949 – by which point it was considered way past its expiration date. If Batman, or Superman, or any other comic character of that ilk had been shuffled off into publishing oblivion back then, they’d be regarded in the same light.

I strongly believe that if you take who this character was – his beliefs, mores and personal prejudices – you have a protagonist who is far more interesting than one with modern-day sensibilities which have been imposed due to the demands of today’s readership.

This early 20th-century guy running around in the waning days of that time, burdened with all that baggage – that was what made it interesting to me.

I had a wonderful time doing the book, and pissing off two old school Shadow fans in particular – who shall remain nameless – was an unintended result that still delights me.

And to continue the pissing-off process, no, I’m not a pulp fan, and never was. Most of the stuff was unreadable even in my teenage years. That said, however, this material can be very satisfying to deconstruct and deliver visually.

TW: Recently you released Midnight in Moscow, which explained where The Shadow had been in the intervening years. How did it feel returning to the character, and had that story been percolating for a long time?

HC: I had a terrific time doing Midnight In Moscow, thanks in no small part to my editor on the project, the fabulous Molly Mahan, now a Vertigo editorial mainstay.

The story’s genesis involved Nick Barrucci asking me whether I had any interest in returning to the character. This set me off, and Bob’s still your uncle. I was grateful to be able to do a story about aging – and to write and draw a six-issue series that led, rather seamlessly, into the 1986 miniseries.

TW: Black Kiss was in many ways a distillation of many of the elements of your work to date. I know it was profitable for you, but it also seemed to me to have an almost Ellroyesque obsession with the underbelly of Hollywood. How much fun was that to do? 

HC: Black Kiss was inspired by a number of elements. As I recall, I was walking on Madison Avenue in the late summer of 1985, and saw a woman I’d dated nearly a decade earlier, whom I hadn’t seen since, at the end of the block. As we approached each other, I realized this was not her, but her transvestite doppelganger – and the idea of twins connected by a dick was recorded and lodged for future reference.

Bill Marks of Vortex approached me about doing a book at around the same time Stan (Lee) and Carmine (Infantino) were seriously colluding in an attempt to create a ratings system for comics similar to the one used with films.   In my (late) youthful arrogance, I regarded this as a disaster, and, once Lou Stathis came on board, Black Kiss was born.

I should note that Black Kiss was my first book about California, done in the final days of my rampant alcoholism.   It deeply reflected my ambivalence and outright paranoia about Los Angeles – and I have to point at this project as the beginning of what the sober among us refer to as our bottom – the hole from which we ultimately must climb.

TW: People seemed to be almost going out of their way to be offended about Black Kiss. I recall Grant Morrison calling it “adolescent homophobic mummy’s boy jerk-off fantasy drivel”, a strong reaction, following up with about 1000 words on why it was so awful that you had done this thing. Why do you think people had such a hysterical reaction to it?

HC: Wow – I hadn’t thought about Mr. Morrison’s review in decades–but as Dean Martin would have it, “Memories are made of this.”

Comic book fans – by which I mean male enthusiasts, who make up the majority, despite the recent advent of Geek Girl culture – have an ambivalent and confused relationship with erotic content, particularly when it’s overt, as opposed to the covert eroticism of every superhero comic book produced since Lou Fine, Reed Crandall and Mac Raboy brought actual draftsmanship to comics.

All those spandex outfits, tights on butts, male and female…that is altogether acceptable–but when the fetishistic aspect is pointed out and pushed a bit farther than the border of the average enthusiast’s comfort zone, trouble brews.

Face it – for the comic book guy, pinups are great, but porn – hey, that’s private..!

And as for Mr. Morrison, he was then and is now entitled to his opinion.   At least he signed his name, as opposed to the rampant pack of chickenshits, cowards, pissants and pussies who haunt the blogosphere.

Of course, I do believe that what we have here is a very early example of what’s come to be known in academic circles as vindictive protectiveness – championing a minority of which Mr. Morrison isn’t actually a part, while needing to heroically interject against a perceived injustice against them.

The companies have an investment in convincing the enthusiast that the characters are the brand – whereas we as comic people know that the talent is the brand.   And despite my feeling that Mr. Morrison’s utterly humourless self-regard is only trumped by his nearly parodic self-mythologizing, a youthful pal of mine who’s a fan of his pointed out that that is actually his brand.

Furthermore, this friend regards my often described trajectory of a career running from inept to excellent as self-loathing, as opposed to my feeling that it is a humble and realistic appraisal–finding this humility wanting compared to Mr. Morrison’s overinflated sense of self.

Go figure.

I should point out that we’ve never met. We were in a green room at the San Diego convention some years back, where we both seemed to be pretending the other was dead.

For any further insights, I can only recommend Alan Moore’s recent remarks in regard to Mr. Morrison, which are, needless to say, articulate, sensitive and beautiful.

TW:Ironically, these days you’d have a lot of people calling out Grant for being Transphobic. 

HC: Really? What for? Or is this one of those instances where he’s unintentionally hurt some identity politician’s feelings by not portraying a transgender character as Mother Teresa with dick?

TW: By the mid-90s, you were working more in TV and Film, with the Flash, Mutant X and Earth: Final Conflict. Towards the end of the decade, you became more involved in comics, principally as a writer on books like Pulp Fantastic and American Century.  Recently you worked with Matt Fraction on Satellite Sam, where you provided art for another writer. What are your preferences with these differing elements of comic book creation?

HC: I worked fairly steadily in television from 1990 to 2002 – never serving on a show I’d watch that I wasn’t professionally involved in. I moved to California in 1985 because I realized that I might actually get old – and comics were not going to keep me in anything but cat food casseroles.

I am forever grateful for the work I did in television, as it gave me a pension and real estate. When I was fired from my last job, I approached DC Comics about coming back to work for them full-time as a writer and artist – as during the time I’d been involved with television, I’d done some writing, both on my own and in collaboration.

Since then, I’ve maintained a schedule of approximately 25 pages a month, either writing and drawing my own work, writing for another artist, or drawing other writer’s scripts.

At least for me, there are no clear-cut preferences. Each discipline informs the other. Much of what I learned when I was writing for television has had an impact on my comic book work, particularly in the realm of story structure. My experience drawing material from other writers’ scripts has reminded me of the fact that far too many of them have little or no knowledge of, or perhaps even any interest in or concern with, the physical real estate and limitations of the comic book page.

My job and responsibility in those collaborations is to filter out the literary, often non- visual nature of those scripts and create pattern and narrative structure that serves the medium and the story.

TW: You collaborated with David Tischman on much of your output in the early 2000s. How did that creative process work, and what were the pluses and minuses?

HC: David Tischman is a very witty, astonishingly clever guy – for the record in that green room non-encounter with Mr. Morrison, he made a remark on Mr. Morrison’s exit that still makes me laugh.   He’s a fount of terrific ideas – who remains congenitally incapable of finding closure with any of them.

David and I would discuss the first draft – he’d then deliver that, and I would rewrite it, sometimes extensively, sometimes surgically –but always closely and specifically.

TW: Mighty Love, the original graphic novel from 2004 was your first new art since the 1990s, I think, and you subsequently became more involved with comics again as a writer and artist. What drew you back to the field?

HC: I think this question is answered pretty clearly and completely above.   It should be noted that when I sold DC Mighty Love, I hadn’t drawn anything in nearly a decade, and thus had no idea whether or not I could actually still do it.

That said, I found that my chops were in pretty good shape, and to my delight, I also learned that I’d developed more confidence in my abilities to improvise – and that I no longer had those occasional days that haunted me back then, in which I would quite literally forget how to draw.

My goal is to die at my drawing table – not soon, however, thank you very much.

TW: Since then you have done a variety of work for a number of publishers. The two titles that seem to me to reflect your core aesthetic are Black Kiss II and Satellite Sam. Overall, what work in your career do you feel is key to you?

HC: As I’ve noted above, Time(Squared) is my most personal work. I’m proud of Flagg! of course, and Black Kiss – all three productions are near and dear to my heart.

Matt has said more than once to my delight and amusement that Satellite Sam is Howard Chaykin fan fiction. What could be more charming than that?

And while you’re at it, have a look at Century West from Image & Titan, a western done originally for Disney Italia, as well as City Of Tomorrow and my revisionist version of The Challengers Of The Unknown. The latter got me called a “Left-wing faggot” on the internet –it doesn’t get any better than that.

And to maintain the march of work that has no commercial value in a marketplace obsessed with edgy gritty dark superheroes on one hand and narcissistic autobiographical art school comics on the other, I’ve got a noir miniseries for Image entitled Midnight Of The Soul out this summer, a twelve part serial for Dark Horse Presents called Sunshine Patriots at around the same time–and a new, to be announced title, also for IMAGE, slated for Winter 2016.

TW: Any chance of a Howard Chaykin artist’s edition? I’m asking for a friend…. 

HC: Artist’s edition of what, exactly?

Howard Chaykin



  1. Great interview with one of the best conversationalists in comics. Chaykin has a real handle on the history of the industry. Would love to see a book of interviews with him talking to his contemporaries in the vein of Eisner’s book. I think there’d be some great insights to be had there, as he would ask questions no one had thought of.

    Chaykin has joked in the past about how uncommercial in the comics marketplace his work is, but I love it –especially when he’s doing his own stuff rather than licensed properties. Extremely excited for all his new projects coming up: Midnight Of The Soul, Sunshine Patriots, and his newly announced project with Image.

    At 45 I don’t care if I ever read another superhero book. Crime and westerns and general weirdness are where it’s at for me.

    • Jim Derbyshire March 23, 2016, 9:19 pm

      I agree. Howard’s the best out there. I’m 63, have been collecting all my life, and have just about all he has produced. I look forward to every new comic he puts out. I talked with him a few years ago at Wizardworld in Philadelphia (I drove down from Niagara Falls, Ontario just to meet him). He was articulate, forthcoming about upcoming projects, politely answered my questions, and thankful to me for being a fan of his. What a gentleman!

  2. I have been a fan since the days of Fafhard & The Grey Mouser & Scorpion…to the point where my local shop just orders me any Chaykin books offered, without even checking.
    As for Flagg!, it may not have been the usual “mass market” work…but that’s exactly why I bought it (& many other books)…it was different from everything else.
    I’m now in my mid 50’s…and still loving Chaykin’s work!

  3. in the mid 90s i had the fortunate chance to work with Howard on The Flash CBS series, i was honored to be able to meet and befriend this legend and be able to swing into his office unannounced and rap about oh just about anything. usually when i lecture i steer people away from meeting thier idols or legends because the letdowns are shattering, ask Kevin Bacon. So just a message to Howard, you never let me down, as a person, as a writer and never as a creative force and im very glad to have shared those times on The Flash. BTW I was the graffiti artisit that did all the set murals. Best

  4. […] lines a lot between satire and personal attack, but it is as Chaykin said about American Flagg!, a liberal mugged by reality (it was actually former New York mayor Ed Koch that said that but still…). And this feels […]


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